Thursday, July 23, 2015

Small Town Fatigue

I feel like John Mellencamp's "Small Town" was written for me.
Well I was born in a small town
And I live in a small town
Probably die in a small town
Oh, those small communities
I was born and raised in Kellogg, Idaho, and the Silver Valley area. I've lived here nearly my entire life. In fact, the only time I didn't live in Kellogg, was the 30 or so months I lived in Moscow, while attending the University of Idaho (Go Vandals). I spent my childhood on the tail end of the "Uncle Bunker" days and remember the good ol' days as though they were yesterday. I remember the sound of the shift siren at Bunker Hill, I remember the sound of trains as they charged through Kellogg on what is now the Greenbelt along aptly named Railroad Ave. I remember the smell of the smelter smoke and I can still remember when they would sprinkle slag on the roads for traction, which I learned later, is one of the most harmful things you can do to a car. I also remember using a putter out of the bunkers at Pinehurst Golf Course, (I still call it Kellogg Country Club) because they weren't filled with sand, oh no, they were filled with nothing but the finest slag from Bunker Hill, and were rock hard a majority of the time. All of those memories are vivid to me, and though some were detrimental, they symbolized one thing... money. The smell of the smelter, the strobe-like blinking lights of the smelter stacks, the sound of the trains, all of them symbolized money. Even though it was the tail end, I experienced a thriving economy in the Silver Valley.

I also lived the down-turn. I witnessed friends moving away as dads got laid off. I experienced several school closures and/or modifications and numerous cuts to programs and teachers. I also saw the closure of the YMCA, and many of the opportunities that came with it. I have lived it, as a child, young adult, and now as a parent. It seems like since I graduated from Kellogg High School, there has been nothing but less money, fewer students, and bad economic news. I shudder to think what this place would be like without Dave Smith Motors and the few remaining mines that we are clinging to. But I know that it can always get worse. Even looking back on my tenure with the Kellogg School District, I had no idea how well we had it in the mid 90s. Little did I know that things would continue to decline for the next 2 decades. But with a few exceptions, there has been little to no sustainable growth or improvement (as a Senior in HS I thought the gondola and Silver Mountain would save the day... while a great opportunity, the economic impact  has not been great, other than inflated housing) and each year the theme has remained the same: more cuts needed, less funds, do more with less.

This post is not a complaint about my community and home town. I love it here. But I'm tired. Yes, I consider myself a "can do" person, glass half full, if you prefer metaphors. I try to be optimistic about everything, but I'm getting worn out. I believe most of the cause of this is the emergence of social media, and me constantly reading frustrations and complaints about our communities and schools. Many times it is hurtful venting, accusations, misinformation, and complaints from people I know, grew up with, and sometimes am related to. It all begins to add up, and take a toll on my attitude and well being. "You need a thicker skin," most say, when I tell them about this fatigue. "You are biased," they retort when I try to explain reasoning for decisions made by our school district, my employer. For me it isn't as easy as looking the other way, or having a thicker skin. I know nearly every person making comments. I can never get away from them. When I hear the comments, requests, complaints, and frustrations throughout the community, I try to figure out how on Earth it would be possible to meet all the needs. Many of my co-workers and I are giving 100% every day to ensure our schools are the best that they can be. It is hard not to take things personally.

This post is also not an attempt to illustrate that everything the Kellogg School District does is right, the best, or perfect. No school district, business, or entity, for that matter, is perfect. I also don't agree 100% with every decision made by my school district. But I do believe in what we are trying to accomplish, and I believe that teamwork is better than constantly undermining each other and spreading biased or inaccurate information. I also truly believe that most of my co-workers have the same determined goals for our community and our students. Blaming individuals or groups, or people we don't like is not a constructive way to accomplish anything. We can do better than that, and frankly, we need to now, more than ever.

I suppose this post is sort of a cathartic release for me. I guess it is also my motivation to not take things personally & to consider why people say what they say. I often find myself holding things people say about my place of work against them, and that impacts my attitude. I encourage, and push our leaders to be active on social media, and to connect with the community. This isn't always easy, as it means me being exposed to comments and opinions from every pocket of the community. I get defensive. I get offended. I suppose I need to let things go, or at least try to look beyond the hurtful rhetoric and find legitimate criticism, that can help me improve, or communicate to others for improvement. I know that especially during tough economic times, opinions will be even more emotion filled. I need to remember that and consider it when processing everything. My community, my home town, needs me to do this.

Monday, December 29, 2014

PLN: Professional and Personal

Great Wall of China, 2014
A while ago, I blogged about my family, and shared it on my social media communities. Because it was family/personal in nature, I naturally expected more feedback and interaction from some networks such as Facebook, because they tend to be more "casual" or  "family" focused than some of my others like Twitter and Google+. Much to my surprise, a few individuals, who I know primarily through connections made in the Ed-Tech-sphere, read my blog, and commented. I was grateful, and moved that they took the time to not only read my post(s) which for the past 6+ months, have been predominantly family focused and more personal than professional, but they also replied and offered sincere words of encouragement. During one such interaction (on Twitter) I found myself apologizing for the nature of my most recent blog posts, because they were not "Ed Tech" focused. My gut level explanation was that this was "just where I am right now." These and similar exchanges on social media reaffirmed what I have been forcing myself to adhere to the past couple months. But that doesn't mean that I have not been wrestling and struggling with trying to find a place to "fit in" professionally, while being present for my family first and foremost. It was those few "professional" based relationships, that have turned into friendships that really got me thinking.

I happen to have an addictive personality. When I discover something that I like, or care about, I go full throttle, pedal to the metal, 110% (sorry Math people) sometimes to unhealthy levels. Sometimes I catch myself, and sometimes I need a gentle reminder. I'm a little compulsive that way. Most of the time this is OK because I am able to figure out ways to make it all work together. A few years ago, I was finding myself feeling a little bit burned out. I really didn't feel like attending conferences or making connections & I found myself merely going through the motions at work. I made a decision to use Twitter more actively & to stop having 2 online "identities." The positive impact on my professional career was immediate and encouraging. In less than a year, I made meaningful connections that revived my passion for educational technology. Becoming a Google Education Trainer, and Google Certified Teacher were fun bi-products of those connections and inspirations as well.

I have really enjoyed making connections, and have grown tremendously the last 2+ years as a result of ramping up my PLN and social media presence. Admittedly, most of my growth and connecting has been professionally, but also personally as I have also enjoyed making new friends via those professional connections. So the dynamic has been fulfilling in many ways. But despite all the connections, inspiration, and new friendships, I have been finding myself at times mentally tired, physically tired, and sometimes just plain worn out. I have found that times like these, I wake up in the morning and wonder if I can keep up this pace. Despite sharing mostly positive experiences online, I still have lots of times where I struggle, both personally and professionally, perhaps more often, recently.  I use those moments to continually reflect (mentally) and try to put things into perspective.

Despite the positive rush felt with each new follower, retweet, or like, I've had to refocus and focus on what really matters, meaningful connections. Although accomplishing goals and reaching milestones like Google Education Trainer and Google Certified Teacher are great, I have vowed to not let them "define" who I am or what I stand for. I've found the connections formed as a result of these are more meaningful and valuable, and there have been some highly encouraging and influential people I've met along the way. I'm grateful for that and I very much appreciate those who strive to balance professional aspirations and goals with family and friend based endeavors.

So as I reflect on another year, I am not making any proclamations or resolutions, but I am reaffirming a few things that I feel strongly about, as I keep connecting, learning, failing, and sharing.

1. Family always comes first: I will not sacrifice family time for a Twitter chat or Google Hangout. Educational Technology will always be there, but my daughters will not be young forever, and I happen to think my wife is pretty rad.

2. Brand is not important to me: Some work hard to create a brand for themselves, and that is OK. It just isn't for me. I don't have the time or energy to write a book, do a weekly podcast, or publish how to videos/tutorials.  Please understand this... Those things are all great, I just have too many other interests to do these things at a high level. My career doesn't define me.

3. Ed Tech isn't magic: I love technology. I love teaching. But technology won't save education. I need to remember this and not get stressed out about it. I can't revolutionize education by myself, but I can connect and learn as much as I can, & share that with others.

4. Pushback is OK: I still struggle with this. I think it is mostly because I didn't apply myself like I should have in college. My strength was and is that I love kids and teaching. I am good with people. So my pedagogical knowledge was minimal at best. Just good enough to get through. So I'm playing catchup now. As I learn, I need to be OK with pushback. Just because someone disagrees with me doesn't make me inadequate or wrong. I need to embrace this as part of learning together.

5. Work isn't everything: I've focused heavily on my professional growth and career the past year or two, almost neglecting the personal part of social media. As these social media tools continue to evolve (Voxer anyone?) I want to value and emphasize the friendship aspect of growth as well as professional.

6. Enjoy the ride: Life is too short to stress out and worry about whether or not we are making a difference. I need to focus on what really matters (relationships) and let passion and connections take priority. The rest will take care of itself.

I'd like to conclude this reflective post by mentioning some people who have been really influential, inspirational, and helpful to me. There are so many, but some make an extra effort to connect on a more personal level. Laurie Roberts, Tammy McMorrow, Dave Guymon, Jeremy Macdonald, Sean Williams, Dave Childers, Jon Samuelson, Zach SnowAlison Anderson, Tim Lauer, Darren Hudgins, Melissa Lim, Rachel Wente-Chaney, Carl Lindgren-Streicher, Curt Rees, Dean Shareski, Shawn White, Diane Main, Amy Fadeji, Catina Haugen, Darren Massa, Lisa Delapo, Ryan Archer, Mark Rounds, David Theriault, Jon Corippo, Reuben Hoffman, Craig Yen, Amy Mayer, David Roberts, Jim Windisch, Sarah Windisch, Edcamp Idaho team (Janet Avery, Marita Diffenbaugh, Tim Rocco, Tami Rigby) and many, many more... too many to name them all. But thank you all. You've impacted me greatly.

I'm excited to face the future and the challenges that come with it, with people who share my passion for education, technology, family, friendships, and connections.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Google Learner Academy

To say the last couple of months have been a blur would be an understatement. It really does seem like yesterday I got the email notifying me that I had been selected to attend the Google Teacher Academy. So much has happened for me and my family since then. It is hard to believe GTAMTV is upon us!

Yes, I realize that there is no such thing as a technological "Silver Bullet" but the opportunities that Google Apps for Education has afforded my school district and me are too many to list. I'll admit it, I'm a full blooded Google fanboy and this is a dream come true. The funny thing is, despite the fact that my district has been a Google Apps District for 5 years, I neglected to connect with peers and apply for the Google Teacher Academy until this Spring. I can't explain the reasons why, and I regret the fact that I waited so long to apply, but the past is the past. It is time to look forward.

So I'm now looking forward to tomorrow...  the Google Teacher Academy in Mountain View California, at the Google headquarters. In many ways, it still seems too good to be true. And after meeting many of my cohort face to face for the first time tonight, the anticipation is even greater. I'm really honored to be part of such a talented and passionate group of educators from all over North America and beyond. At times I find myself becoming overwhelmed by the greatness. Just watching the application videos is an impressive display of educational awesomeness. You won't find a more dedicated group of people.

As I visited with some of the super talented people in the GTAMTV cohort tonight, I heard many stories of family, teaching, leading, music, technology, and much more. The more I visited and listened, the more I began to realize that we are all lifelong learners. Even though we have titles like Teacher, Principal, Administrator, Librarian, Technology Coach, Technology Director, we are all learners. I've also seen the label "lead learner" for this event and also making the rounds on Twitter and other social media circles. Tonight that label made perfect sense. Even as we prepare to work with such an impressive group of people, we are all learning together....

Being around such greatness and creativity in such a great setting can also be intimidating for some. Whenever I feel overwhelmed or intimidated, I think of the video "Obvious to you. Amazing to others." We need to confidently learn with one another and share willingly. Don't be afraid that someone else already knows more, or can do something better.

I'm glad I'm part of the Google Teacher Learner Academy!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Reflecting on EdcampIdaho

On the eve after a super inspiring #EdcampIdaho I feel tired enough to sleep, but somehow I can't turn off my thoughts. So I guess I'll blog. 

When the alarm went off at 5AM on Thursday, the day before EdcampIdaho, something other than the early wake up had me in an anxious state of mind. You know, when something you have anticipated for a long time has finally arrived, and at that very moment you get that combination of butterflies and some introspective thinking? I oftentimes wonder if I am unique in this way or of others experience this. But for a few moments, as I quietly got ready for a trip that would take me away from my family, including my new daughter for the first time, some random thoughts entered my brain. 

Am I really making a difference in my job? 
Will this trip be worth the time, money, effort, and time away from loved ones? (Thank you Dave Guymon for the great discussions on this btw)
Am I in over my head? 
Is education really "broken"? Can we really make a difference? 
How am I going to get things ready for the upcoming school year? 
How can I be better at my job? 
Do I know enough to contribute to some of the best and brightest educators in Idaho? 

Anxious excitement. Anxcitement. Call it what you wish, but I think it is a result of our brains knowing that some risks, challenges and stretching/growing opportunities are approaching. My response is to introspectively ponder questions and do some soul searching Eventually they calm down and I proceed to other tasks, but those first few hours of anticipation are surreal to me. 

I then proceeded to tell my wife goodbye (This never gets any easier) and drive 70+ miles to an airport. I then flew from Spokane to Seattle, followed by a change over and another flight from Seattle to Boise. That in itself was a trek, and I rarely travel alone, so it was more time to ponder the big (and little) picture questions of EdTech. I then hopped in a rental car and drove for 2.5 more hours to my destination: Hailey, Idaho. This was really happening. A year of planning, discussing, chatting, and organizing with some of the brightest, and most humble educators in Idaho was coming to fruition. #EdcampIdaho was upon us. 

For anyone who doesn't know what an Edcamp is, I highly recommend you check out the articles and information about them on the Internet. But more importantly I urgently encourage you to find one nearby and attend one. Basically an Edcamp is Professional Development that is 100% learner focused and remixed to create a fully engaged, collaborative day of sharing and learning. This wasn't my first experience with this "Unconference" model so I knew what was in store for those of us who were in attendance. I have to say that despite my confidently optimistic outlook, my expectations were still greatly exceeded! There is nothing like spending a day with passionate, willing learners. That's right, learners. Today we shared, laughed, debated, listened, and most importantly MODELED what we want for our students. 

But even though I could keep illustrating how powerful and authentic the learning experiences were today, I want to focus on something else. Some of the people I'm grateful and blessed to work and learn with. Because I think this is just as important as the professional learning that took place.

I want to start by saying that I have "known" Dave Guymon digitally for just under 2 years, but before this event, I had not met him face to face, unless you count a couple Google Hangouts. Dave is just as kind, bright, and funny as he is online, but his humility is what most greatly impacted me. I also appreciate Dave's devotion to his family. He also opened his new house to me for 2 days/nights and led us on several outings, despite living here for just a few weeks. Just this fellowship was worth the trip in itself. Thank you Dave. #makewayforthefuntray 

Marita Diffenbaugh is one of the most passionate EdTech advocates I know. She is also kind and also quite knowledgable in many areas of EdTech. I am inspired by how willingly Marita shares what she knows without looking for recognition or accolades. She is also a fantastic encourager and coach. Thank you Marita.

Tami Rigby is also every bit as easy to talk to as she is online. You can't be with Tami for more than a few minutes and not have her positive energy rub off onto you. It is rare to know someone for such a short time yet feel at ease talking to that person. Tami is one of those people. I am already looking forward to working alongside Tami again. Thank you Tami. 

Janet Avery is a multitasking machine and is always finding something positive to say. I know this to be true both online and in person. (see a pattern here with these exceptional people?) I was so impressed that Janet's husband and son joined her for this trip and both willingly helped and participated! Janet has been a big catalyst for #EdCampIdaho becoming a reality and I am inspired by her servant leadership. 

Tim Rocco was the ultimate host the last 2 days! He organized food, coffee, Tweetups, camp-outs, and much, much more. Much had to be done behind the scenes, and Tim spared no expense for all of us. From the technology infrastructure to make it all possible, to things like coffee (have I mentioned coffee yet?) and other things like willingly loaning sleeping bags, pillows, and more. I'm inspired by your leadership Tim, and I look forward to working and learning with you in the future. Thank you!

I am really grateful to get to work with you all.
Thank. You.

Of course there were so many other awesome people I learned with the last couple days, that it is impossible to list them all. But I'm grateful to now know Paul Zimmerman (hashtag teamandroid) better, and excited to share all things Android and EdTech with him in the future. I see some Google Hangouts in our future? #nerdalert And of course I can't leave out fellow North Idahoan and Vandal Jim Windisch. You really couldn't find a nicer guy than Jim and I admire him for making an extra special effort to attend! 

With all this being said, there is much for Idaho Educators to celebrate. Despite all the challenges we face today we took the time today to learn and share together in a way that was new to many. We learned about Project Based Learning, Google Apps for Education, Things that Suck, Blogging, BYOD, iPads, Grading/Assessment, and much more. But as exciting and important as those things are, I think the most important outcome of the day was that we modeled what we want learning to look like for our students. We stepped out of our comfort zones and willingly learned with and from each other. We used resources we found online and the vast and unique experiences we all bring to the table. We showed each other all the different ways we can connect and learn alongside one another and how we can make what we do even better. Your school districts, and students are all fortunate to have such bright, passionate, and dedicated educators! Today we showed Idaho that the way to improve what we do is to be #bettertogether. To connect online, share stories, help one another, and enjoy the journey. Way to go Idaho!

Those stretching questions that I had pondered early Thursday morning are already transforming into ideas, optimism, and drive. Today Dan Massimino said "the smartest person in the room... is the room." Boy was he right. I'm happy I get to return to my family tomorrow, but I'm also happy I made the trip. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Idaho TLAP Book Study: P is for Passion

Part I - Chapter 1: Passion 

Dave Burgess presents three questions in this chapter for us to answer.

Q1: Within your subject matter, what are you passionate about teaching?
I am no longer in the classroom, but I spent approx 9 years teaching middle school science and technology. I actually took the science teaching position because it was the first opening after I got my teaching certificate. I'm grateful because science was very fun to teach. But I wouldn't consider what I did "teaching," rather it was more like "lead learner" because I did not have a science endorsement. Looking back, I remember getting comments from other teachers that it was a detriment to not be "highly qualified" in the topic I was teaching but I found that it was more about the relationships and rapport and making science real and fun. I found that teaching science allowed me to model "lifelong learning" so that is what I was most passionate about for those years, within the subject matter.
For the latter classroom years, I was passionate about every aspect of technology, but most passionate about robotics (Lego Mindstorms) and programming (Logo). I loved learning alongside my students and it was energizing to see their excitement and engagement when they came into the classroom! I had to force them to leave at the end of the period!

Q2: Within your profession, but not specific to your subject matter, what are you passionate about?
Because I taught middle school science and also technology, it was fun to learn with my students. Modeling lifelong learning was definitely something I was passionate about. I was also passionate about students' respecting and valuing one another and having fun in my classroom. I often found that students who struggled with behavior in other classes, did quite well in my room.

Q3: Completely outside of your profession, what are you passionate about?
I have golfed most of my life and then coached golf for 19 years. I still love golf but have moved on to other hobbies that I'm passionate about. I love technology. I love to run and ride my road bike. I also love music as I played trumpet in high school. My favorite was jazz band. I now play the drums and am learning the guitar. Music is something I really enjoy and use daily. I'm also passionate about being with my family.

Friday, May 16, 2014

My thanks to our district for a day of unConference learning...

I have been meaning to write and publish this post for a long time, since February 15, to be precise. I was so moved and inspired by the learning and sharing that took place during our "Love Of  Learning" unConference Professional Development day that I wanted to reflect, share, and also thank those who were instrumental in making it a reality. Of course, first and foremost, you the learners were the most instrumental in making this a success, because without willing learners, it's hard to share and learn.

One thing that we often take for granted when doing any form of PD or meetings is the behind the scenes work that takes place. The cleaning, preparing, decorating, installing is all usually something that we expect to be done, but we rarely recognize those who make it all happen. I'd like to thank and recognize the KSD391 Maintenance and Custodial crews for their help in preparing KMS for the day of learning.

Mike Lawley, Aaron Miller, and Tim Etherton made a special effort to mount a projector screen to ensure we had a nice big screen for our central gathering and keynote. The KMS custodians also went through special effort to have the cafeteria and other rooms at KMS ready. Without these people the event would not have been as effective. Additionally, a special thanks to Principal Scott Ross and the KMS staff for opening up their building to not only the entire district, but also to the Wallace SD as well. Thank you!

Next, I want to thank and recognize the people who braved uncertainty, change, and the unknown, to volunteer to facilitate one or more discussions/sessions. Since the sessions were fluid and dynamic, I will miss out on a few I'm sure. Thank you to Patty Hoeck, Kieth Finkbeiner, Margy Brooks, Jana Nearing, Wendy Roach, Amy Miller, Emily Rosenberger, Michelle Kilbourne, Torrie Stutzke, Adam Hanan, Carolyn Wozny, Paul Roberts, Rich Peterson, Eli Bourgard, Chris Lund, Carol Roberts, Scott Ross, Joan Dawson, Melissa Case, Tina Brackebusch, Mary Harding, Vicki McEnany and any others (I'm working from memory here, so forgive me if I didn't mention you!) who helped lead the way.

Additionally, I want to thank Gwen, Jan, Brett, and Hank. Thank you Jan for your tireless effort and your long hours as we planned this out. You truly went the extra mile and I appreciate every inch. As we went through the steps to build the session board and offer the most customized learning experience possible, there were "bumps" in the road and variables that came up. Admittedly, there was a point when I was a tad overwhelmed, but brilliant minds like Gwen and Jan, kept things moving forward. Hank and Brett were so efficient in making sure each room had adequate technology and audio/visual support, that I didn't hear one complaint the entire day of something simply not working. Thank you all for being such amazing people to work with.

When I roamed the hallways for Session 1, I was anxious (OK nervous) about what I would see when I looked into each room. It was not that I didn't think it would work, but when you try something new, there is always a bit of apprehension. What I saw when I checked in on each room blew away my best expectations! I remember seeing instant engagement and meaningful discussion everywhere I went. It gave me goosebumps, seriously. It was so inspirational to see that many educators, all working together, sharing and making each other smarter and better equipped to impact our kids. Truly amazing stuff.

Throughout the day, there were some really great discussions and learning that occurred. Yes, we discovered a few things that we need to improve upon, but overall it was a day well spent, in my opinion. I think what impacted me the most was seeing people working together to share authentically, and empower one another on a myriad of topics. It confirmed my belief that we do indeed have some really passionate and talented educators in KSD391. Most importantly, I think the primary benefactors of this culmination of collaboration are the students we serve. It is the one common thread that we all share, regardless of grade level, subject, political view, position, or experience. Despite budget woes, state mandates, Common Core, SBAC, or any other initiative or mandate... we have one common mission:  Kids.

Thank you all for being willing learners, or perhaps unLearners, and modeling what lifelong learning and collaboration are all about. I truly believe it is our job to model and foster 21st century learning to our students. They need us now, more than ever.


Monday, February 3, 2014